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The Tate Modern Blavatnik building.

The BLAVATNIK building.

When the Tate Modern £260m extension was opened in June 2016, it was named the Switch House, reflecting the previous use of the site for a power station. The new space has already received more than six million visitors since opening.

Now Tate Modern has re-named the new extension ‘The Blavatnik Building’.

The Blavatnik Building at Tate Modern London

The Blavatnik Building at Tate Modern London

The new name was revealed a few days ago, (4 May 2017). The Tate announced that the extension is named after the USSR-born billionaire oligarch Len Blavatnik, who made one of the largest donations to the institution in The Tate’s history.
‘Although the size of the donation is not being disclosed it is reported that it is over £50m. This makes it the largest-ever financial donation to a UK museum. Until now the Sainsbury family has been the most generous donor, providing £25m for the British Museum’s 2014 extension and over £30m for the 1991 Sainsbury Wing extension at the National Gallery (the 1991 sum would be around £60m in today’s money, taking inflation into account).’ The Art Newspaper. (4 May 2017)

Named in 2015 by the Sunday Times Rich List as the richest man in Britain with an estimated wealth of £13bn, the 59-year-old Mr Blavatnik was born in Ukraine and built his fortune in the oil industry.

“The generosity of this gift is almost unprecedented in Tate’s history. Len Blavatnik’s enthusiastic support ensured the successful realisation of the project and I am delighted that the new building now bears his name.” Nicholas Serota departing director at Tate.

Even better, the Blavatnik Family Foundation has made a string of donations to other UK cultural bodies, including the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, the Royal Academy and the Royal Opera House. In 2016, it funded a new hall at the Victoria and Albert Museum redevelopment.

Mr Blavatnik, who became a UK citizen in 2010 in addition to his US citizenship, said: “My family and I are honoured to support Tate, and to be linked to this exceptional building. Tate provides incomparable service to the arts, culture and education throughout the world.”

Why was it built?

From the Tate Galleries website announcing the start of the project; ‘Tate Modern was designed for an annual audience of 2 million visitors. It now receives around 5 million visitors each year. This success has put pressure on our existing facilities and programme.

Different kinds of gallery spaces are needed to better display the works in the Collection. Film, video, photography and performance have become more essential strands of artistic practice, and artists have embraced new technologies. Ambitious and imaginative installations are now pushing traditional gallery spaces to their limits.

The exhibition and display space will be almost doubled, enabling us to show more of our Collection. There will be more cafes, terraces and concourses in which to meet and unwind.

Learning will be at the heart of the new Tate Modern, reflecting Tate’s commitment to increasing public knowledge and understanding of art.

There will be a range of new facilities throughout the building for deeper engagement with art: interpretation, discussion, private study, participation, workshops and practice based learning.’

What is the new Tate Modern building like?

Tate Modern view from west

Tate Modern view from west

“… It is brick. It is a mountain, a fortification, a battleship, a Babel, a truncated and torsioned pyramid, a cliff, a mountain, a car park, with horizontal slits for windows, that offers visitors from its southern approach a view of convex concrete walls that look as if they are made of rammed earth.

It puts into practice the belief of its designers, Herzog and de Meuron, that architecture might brood and trouble, contradict, that it might somehow reflect the complexities of the human condition. Then, slowly, the building unfolds its generosities.” Laura Cumming. The Observer. 19 June 2016

inside stairs Tate

inside stairs Tate

“We wanted to create the kind of public spaces you find in nature, where you sit under a tree or on a rock,” says Jacques Herzog, one half of Herzog & de Meuron, the Swiss architects who first worked their subtle magic on the power station, and have now returned with the sculptural expressiveness dial cranked up a few notches. “It should be like a cathedral, with these smaller areas where you can be in a more intimate side section, but feel part of a bigger whole.”

It is a people-watching paradise, with nooks and niches to sit and loiter in, and views framed across floors – along with a vertiginous new bridge slung across the Turbine Hall at the uppermost level. The building’s structural concrete frame itself becomes the armature for places to perch and lean, fitted with rudimentary wooden furniture, in a nod to the plywood shuttering from which the concrete was cast.

“The details are deliberately quite primitive,” says project architect John O’Mara, describing how the material junctions of brick, concrete and oak are simply expressed as “essential acts of assembly”, in line with the building’s archaic, primal form.
The view from the open gallery on the top floor provides a vista 360 degrees across London.

Here we are looking east at the Globe theatre, Southwark Bridge, The Walkie Talkie building and Cheese-grater in the City, and Canary Wharf in the distance.

View looking west from top of Tate Modern Blavatnik building

View looking west from top of Tate Modern Blavatnik building

At first named after the part of the power station that the new galleries occupy. The new building expands the museum by 60% to accommodate the surging numbers of visitors, which reached 5.7 million last year, well over double the number the building was designed to cope with when it opened in 2000. But the arresting brick ziggurat is also a physical symbol of the effect the Tate has had on its surroundings.

Since moving into formerly scruffy Southwark, the gallery has seen adjacent land values skyrocket. Although the high level residents who are now open to daily scrutiny through their glass windows might complain. And they do.

The result is a powerful addition to the city, an unsettling presence that is at once seductive and forbidding, an appropriately challenging container for the work that lies within.

 

Colin

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